This Work in Progress paper describes a spatial visualization intervention we implemented in a first semester engineering course entitled Engineering Success. We created this three-credit course to (1) develop skills necessary for success throughout our engineering program and (2) enhance the retention of students in the engineering program. The course includes a review of pre-calculus mathematics with opportunity for remediation, development of non-cognitive (soft) skills, career exploration, and practice of spatial skills. This effort focuses on student spatial skills shown to correlate with success in chemistry, computer science, engineering, and mathematics.
Previous studies found that females, independent of racial and ethnic background, consistently lag behind males in measures of spatial skills. Researchers found that female students entering an engineering program report less confidence than male students in engineering being the right field for them, in scientific preparation, and in their preparation of using graphical tools. The combination of a lack of confidence upon entry into an engineering program and low spatial visualization skills in comparison to male peers may hurt retention efforts in the case of female students. Previous studies also found that students can improve their spatial skills in a short amount of time through specialized training. Various training approaches, including the use of pencil and paper exercises and specific computer applications or mobile apps, demonstrate similar improvements in spatial visualization.
Of three spatial ability subcategories including: spatial perception, mental rotation, and spatial visualization, this study focuses on mental rotation, as this subcategory shows the largest male to female advantage in skill level. Our six-day intervention begins and ends with an evaluation of 12 questions of the Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test to measure changes in performance on mental rotation tasks. The intervention includes several hands-on activities to promote the practice of spatial skills. In addition to developing a low-cost spatial skills intervention, we want to investigate whether our Engineering Success course works to improve student’s mental rotation ability along with if and how well improvements in spatial skills impact retention of students into the second year of our engineering program. Our sample size is small, but our initial results show improvement in the rotation test scores of our lowest scoring students.
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